India's appetite for 'apps' grows as mobile users surge

Rajini Vaidyanathan finds out how mobile apps are becoming big business in India

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In a corner of a swanky mall in Mumbai is a "first" for India.

A small shop by the escalators is home to India's only "off-line" mobile phone application store, where you can buy mobile "apps" off the shelves.

Mobile "apps" are functional programmes installed on phones and tablet devices, and range from games such as the famous Angry Birds to messaging services such as WhatsApp messenger, travel guides and online newspapers.

Usually they're downloaded onto your mobile phone through the internet, but in India millions can't access the web through their phones, which is where this shop, Mobiworld, spotted a gap in the market.

Start Quote

There are investors who are ready to invest in a company just because you're into mobile app development”

End Quote Mohit Sureka Spiel Studios

"People want to access more applications on their mobile phones, but GPRS connections can be slow or non existent in India, so it's just not possible," says Partha Chaudhari from Onward Mobility, the company behind Mobiworld.

At Mobiworld, customers owning smartphones can get mobile applications downloaded onto their phone via Bluetooth and a secure SMS code.

A member of staff is on hand to help you through the process. Mr Chaudhari says this method appeals to a large number of Indian consumers who like personal service and like to "touch and feel" a product before they buy it.

He admits the range of apps his store offers, nine currently, is minute when compared with the thousands of applications which can be purchased over the internet through the iTunes, Android or Nokia stores, for example, but says they plan to expand their range in the coming months.

'Ready to invest'

Getting a foothold into the Indian apps business is seen as a lucrative move by many in India.

The cover of a recent issue of the Indian magazine Businessworld asked whether the Indian app business would be the next big model for entrepreneurs to make money.

In a cramped office in the Ville Parle area of Mumbai are the offices of Spiel Studios.

An application showing how much the right taxi fare should be There are apps to help consumers with various parts of their daily routine

About a dozen young men stare intently at their computer screens as they perform a range of tasks. Some are designing cartoon characters to star in their latest game, others are working on complex software codes.

The company creates apps for clients in India and around the world, specialising in games. It was started in 2007 by Mohit Sureka, who was 22 years old at the time.

"When we started, this industry didn't exist, mobile apps development wasn't taken seriously as a career and as a business proposition, but now there are investors who are ready to invest in a company just because you're into mobile app development," says Mr Sureka.

Made in India?

This change in the industry's fortunes, which has been propelled by the growth in the ownership of smartphones worldwide, is one reason Sureka has been able to expand his team by opening offices in the US and the UK.

With lower set-up costs and a huge pool of IT talent, many more Western companies are eyeing up India for app production, effectively outsourcing this process.

But the domestic app market is also booming.

The value of the Indian value added services industry, which includes mobile apps, was estimated at $3.4bn (£2.2bn) in 2011, according to Deloitte.

The mobile application industry in India alone is predicted to top $4bn by the year 2015, according to figures from Asia Pacific Research Group (APRG).

Figures from the Indian research company IMRB suggest that one in three of the country's urban internet users have accessed a mobile phone application. Globally the mobile app industry is expected to be valued at $17bn by the end of this year.

Domestic boost
An application showing how to tie saris Developers have come up with creative apps targeting the fast-growing domestic market

Many more mobile apps in India are being tailor-made for the Indian market.

There are applications available to teach you how to drape a sari the correct way, others allowing you to check whether you're paying the correct fare in an autorickshaw, and plenty offering local maps and travel guides.

One of Sureka's most popular games is Sealink, which allows you to take to the wheel of a car and drive on Mumbai's Sealink toll road.

There are more than 121 million people online in the country according to IMRB, still a relatively small proportion of the country's 1.2bn population.

But there is a sizeable number who are becoming more tech savvy and are already using mobile phones. The country has more than 858m mobile subscribers, and the number is rising fast.

Judging by the brain power and the increased investment, India's role in the growth of mobile apps is set to be huge - it's likely the country's appetite for apps will only get bigger.

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